Luxury Towers: We Review 5 Of The Best Cases Money Can Buy

Cody Cardarelli

Location, location, location! These high-end PC enclosures are stacked and feature-packed

Whether you're rocking a big videocard or a boatload of drives, these deluxe mid-towers are move-in ready.

Are mid-towers the future of PC chassis design? Used to be that a mid-tower case was a compromise—an admission that you were willing to sacrifice a few features for a rig that could fit under your desk (or on top of it) without making drastic changes to your decor or furniture. Based on the products we’ve seen in the Lab over the last few months, those days are all but over.

The five chassis you see here are all gorgeous on the outside—in red, white, black, and blue—and packed with luxurious amenities on the inside. From a half-dozen (or more) hard drive bays to room for the longest videocards on the market to multispeed fan controllers, USB 3.0, and fans aplenty, these mid-towers can accommodate a full gaming build with aplomb.

As always, we evaluate cases based on build quality, aesthetics, ease of installation, and features. In this roundup, we’re also introducing quantitative thermal testing to the mix in order to determine whether slapping a half-dozen fans into a chassis makes a difference compared to, say, two fans.

Read on to learn more about five of the hottest (or coolest) cases around.

Lian Li PC-8FI

This all-aluminum tower is more sensible than the last Lian Li case we tested

We don’t get Lian Li’s spider obsession, but the rest of the PC-8FI is quite handsome.

Lian Li’s chassis are renowned for their all-aluminum construction and superb build quality, but are also known equally well for costing a fortune and featuring questionable design choices. The mid-tower PC-8FI, thankfully, brings the legendary build quality, adds some nice new toolless touches, and for the most part eschews silly design elements—aside from a giant spider-shaped side window, that is.

Lian Li’s PCI expansion slot–retention mechanism—sometimes the first thing we remove from one of its cases—is better than ever.

The PC-8FI’s drive-bay complement includes three optical drive bays (one with a front flip-down bezel, and one with a 3.5-inch adapter preinstalled) and six toolless 3.5-inch drive bays, one of which can be transformed to hold two 2.5-inch drives with the use of an included adapter. The fan loadout isn’t the most comprehensive we’ve seen, but three 12cm red LED fans still manage to keep air moving through the case, and there’s room at the top of the case for a 14cm exhaust fan. Lian Li even includes an extra mesh fan-cover for that hole.

The PC-8FI ships with a mesh cover for an optional 14cm fan. We wish the fan came with it, too.

The case’s interior is generally well appointed: The motherboard tray includes the now-requisite CPU backplate cutout as well as several non-grommeted cable-routing holes. The PC-8FI also includes Lian Li’s toolless PCI expansion slot­­–securing mechanism, and it works better on this chassis than we remember it working on previous models. It only covers seven of the case’s eight expansion slots; the top one is used as a pass-through for the case’s front-panel USB 3.0 cable.

Unfortunately, the PC-8FI isn’t without its annoyances. If you plan on routing the 8-pin ATX power cable behind the motherboard tray, you need to do so before installing the motherboard, or it won’t fit through the routing hole. And you won’t be able to run a graphics card measuring over 11.2 inches long unless you can figure out a way to run a computer without a hard drive. In other words, oversize videocards will only fit if you remove the hard drive cage entirely. And what kind of life is that?

You know what else is red and black? A Radeon 5970, which won’t fit in this enclosure.

Finally, the PC-8FI doesn’t match the cooling prowess of some of the other cases in this roundup. Without side or top fans, CPU cooling is good but not great. And the GPU could definitely benefit from more airflow. The garish spider-shaped side window will not be to everyone’s taste; if it doesn’t suit you, you can save $40 or so by going for the black or silver versions of this case.

Lian Li PC-8FI
LEAN

Beautiful lines; no tools necessary; optional top fan.

MEAN

Can't fit extra-long cards; red version has garish window.

Antec LanBoy Air

This new modular, open-air chassis lightens our dark little hearts

The LanBoy Air is mesh’d up.

Despite its fairly standard mid-tower dimensions—8.7 inches wide, 20.4 inches high, and 19.3 inches deep—the LanBoy Air is like no other case on the market. It’s more like a cross between an Ikea end table and a Lego set, if a Lego set needed a screwdriver. Its motherboard tray is not only removable and separate from the back panel, but it can switch places with the PSU bracket, if you decide you want your PSU at the top of the case instead of the bottom. Feel like swapping the location of the two three-speed front fans with the three optical drive trays? Go for it—you can even alternate them if you want. The hard drive mounts are more like hammocks, complete with bungie cords, and can be oriented any way you like, though we’d recommend removing them before you move the machine for any reason. This flexibility enables the use of the longest graphics cards you can find. And the floor of the hard drive well includes mounts for two 2.5-inch drives.

A toolbox beneath the front fans holds the LanBoy Air’s miscellaneous hardware and tucks away when not in use.

The LanBoy Air’s five 12cm fans all direct air inward, creating positive air pressure that exits through the mesh wherever a fan is not located. Default fans include two three-speed front fans, two two-speed side-panel fans in front of the graphics cards, and one two-speed rear fan, though you can add an additional 10 fans at your leisure.

If you prefer your PSU on top, you can swap its position with the motherboard’s.

There’s barely any room above the motherboard tray at all—no room to route the 8-pin ATX power cable, and none to add any fans to the inside top if you’re using a skyscraper-style cooler. Though Antec boasts 10 additional fan mounts, rolling with the full complement of fans is overkill, in our view.

Bungee cords? On my hard drives? It’s safer than it looks. But yikes.

Antec’s all-intake scheme leaves no obvious orientation for the skyscraper-style coolers that are today’s leaders, but—much to our surprise—the LanBoy Air in its default configuration actually performed the best in our highly scientific cooling challenge. The two side-fans blowing directly on the GPU certainly seemed to help, and the all-in positive air-pressure approach actually worked better than more traditional airflow schemes.

We’re not convinced this case won’t turn into a DustBoy Air after six months, but we appreciate the modularity and the novelty that Antec has brought to the table here. With plenty of default fans, no end to the customization, and a great industrial look, Antec’s got another winner here.

Antec LanBoy Air
AIR

Great modular design; "positive air pressure" works.

NAIR

Not all fan mounts useful; bit cramped at top; HDD mounts are somewhat scary.

BitFenix Survivor

Can you handle the newest mid-tower on the block?

With wraparound “SofTouch” coating, the Survivor is built to survive.

Cases with handles are nothing new. Cases billed as LAN-ready are nothing new, either. But BitFenix’s first mid-tower chassis, the Survivor, has a wraparound rubberized plastic bumper that’s kinda new. We love the so-called “SofTouch” coating on the case’s wraparound shell—many editors said it was the coolest case they’d ever felt. We won’t name names, but some Lab members wouldn’t stop touching it, which disturbed us a little. The shell protects every corner on the machine—you have to remove two rear bumpers in order to remove the side panels—a slight inconvenience when building, but another step between your components and a hard surface (or a grabby thief) at a LAN event.

The pop-out handle on top seems a little wobbly but never faltered, and BitFenix rates it for up to 88 pounds.

At 9 inches wide by 19.7 inches tall by 20.1 deep, the Survivor is around average size for a mid-tower. Its two three-slot hard drive bays have toolless trays for 3.5- and 2.5-inch drives, and the top one can be removed to accommodate the longest graphics cards. The mobo tray includes a large CPU backplate cutout and a few routing cutouts for power cables and its many front-panel connectors—two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, eSATA, audio ports, and an on/off switch for the LEDs in the BitFenix logo and fans. There’s no cutout for the 8-pin ATX cable, alas, but plenty of tie-down points on the rear of the motherboard tray still allow you to keep those cables tidy.

The rubberized exterior extends to cradle the rear panel, and two pieces must be removed before the side panels can come off.

On the subject of fans: This is where the Survivor really falls short. Its two 20cm fans (front and top) just aren’t enough. BitFenix’s decision to ship the case with no side fans and no rear fan is mystifying, and the Survivor ran among the hottest of the cases we tested in this roundup. We’ve really seen the value of side intake fans during the course of this roundup, and the Survivor is absolutely begging for them.

This pinboard, behind the right-side panel, connects the front-panel LED switch with the LEDs in the Survivor’s case fans and front logo.

We like the rugged good looks of the Survivor, even though its LAN-specific accoutrements (besides the handle, it also includes a peripheral lock and graphics-card strap) are of questionable practicality. It could definitely use a few more fans and a little more room, and the side panels are a pain to remove and replace. But for a LAN-ready mid-tower that can take a few hits, the Survivor is pretty rad.

BitFenix Survivor
SURVIVORMAN

Case can take a few hits; handle sturdier than it looks; can support long graphics cards.

GRIZZLY MAN

No rear fan (?!); side panels are hard to remove; GPU strap nearly useless.

NZXT Phantom

Imperial styling for Jawa prices

The NZXT Phantom’s glossy white coat and angular black mesh set it apart from the crowd.

The NZXT Phantom is gorgeous in a Dark Side kind of way—whether you opt for Darth Vader black, Imperial Guard red, or our favorite: Stormtrooper white. Though NZXT considers the Phantom a full-tower chassis, at 8.75 inches wide, 21.25 inches tall, and 24.5 inches deep (and with no EATX support), it’s no taller or wider (and barely deeper) than the other mid-tower chassis that make up the rest of this roundup. The Phantom packs seven toolless hard drive trays in a dual-bay configuration that (hooray!) leaves room for long cards like the Radeon HD 5970. We’re not crazy about front-panel doors like the one that covers the Phantom’s five (toolless) optical drive bays, but the Phantom’s door is at least nicely weighted and has a magnetic latch.

We’re glad NZXT spent as much time on the Phantom’s interior as it did on the exterior.

The Phantom’s motherboard tray packs the requisite CPU backplate cutout, four grommeted cable-routing holes, and plenty of tie-downs. The rear panel carries a 12cm exhaust fan, seven PCI expansion slots, grommeted holes for water-cooling, and a button that controls the Phantom’s top 20cm fan’s blue LEDs. In addition to the rear 12cm fan, the Phantom comes standard with two 12cm side-panel intake fans and a 20cm top exhaust fan. It also includes mounts for a 20cm (filtered) side intake fan, a 12cm or 14cm front intake fan, and—up top—room for an additional 20cm fan, a 24cm dual radiator, or both. This gives you the choice between two 20cm fans, two 20cm fans and a radiator, or two 12cm fans and a radiator. Every fan or potential fan in the case can be controlled using a gorgeous front-panel fan controller. The front-panel connectors are limited to audio, two USB 2.0, and eSATA. This is the only case in our roundup without front-panel USB 3.0.

The fan control panel is minimal, gorgeous, and initially confusing.

We expected the lack of a front fan to hurt the Phantom’s cooling performance, and it did. Though its CPU cooling score was second-worst in the pack, GPU and system temperatures ran as cool as the LanBoy Air—once again proving the merit of side intake fans. With the addition of a front intake fan, the Phantom could offer cooling performance to match its astounding looks. And given that the Phantom costs just $140, you’ll have plenty of cash left over for a fan or two.

Pop off the front bezel and install an intake fan. DO IT.

NZXT Phantom
STEEL PHANTOM

Stunning design; plenty of room for fans; great value.

PHANTOM MENACE

Needs a front fan; thinks it's a full-tower.

Corsair 600T

A long-awaited mid-tower chassis from the makers of our favorite full-tower

Corsair opted for a more standard airflow scheme for the 600T.

It’s no secret that we really like Corsair’s full-tower case, the 800D. That chassis earned a Kick Ass Award for its no-nonsense exterior, gloriously roomy interior, and its mysterious ability to make every build look fantastic. Of course, it was enormous and cost close to $300. So we had high hopes for the mid-tower 600T: Sure, it’s graphite-colored and clad in (gasp!) curvy plastic, but it’s still Corsair on the inside, right?

All these cable-routing cutouts make the 600T a joy to build in.

The 600T is big for a mid-tower. At 10.4 inches wide by 20 inches high by 23.3 inches deep, it’s the widest case in our lineup. The bowed-out side panels, which latch at the top rather than in the rear, are among the best side panels we’ve ever worked with. There’s plenty of room behind the left-side panel for cable routing, along with lots of convenient extras. Giant CPU backplate cutout? ATX 8-pin cable cutout? Eight grommeted cable-routing cutouts? Yes, yes, and yes.

The Corsair 600T’s intake mesh clicks off for easy cleaning.

Like the 800D, the 600T is an absolute pleasure to build in. Its two three-bay drive cages are both movable—the top one can be moved so it sits between the PSU and bottom drive cage, and the lower drive cage is removable, too. The case easily accommodates a Radeon HD 5970 even without moving the top hard drive cage.

Beneath the top mesh there’s room for a dual radiator, plus a side-panel barrel lock.

The 600T eschews the 800D’s bottom-up cooling scheme in favor of a more straightforward front-to-back strategy with front and top 20cm fans as well as a 12cm rear exhaust fan. There’s plenty of room at the top of the case for a dual radiator or a giant back-mounted cooling loop, such as Corsair’s H70, with its thick radiator and dual fans. The eight PCI-E slots include one that acts as a USB 3.0 pass-through for the front-panel ports.

The Corsair’s lack of a side fan is its only real downside—GPU temperatures were the highest of any in this roundup, though CPU and system temperatures were on the cooler side. Fans of Corsair’s earlier, more squared-off aesthetic may not find glossy graphite-colored plastic and steel to their taste. However, minor quibbles aside, Corsair has created another case that’s a joy to work with, with an aesthetic all its own. And at $160, it’s not breaking the bank.

Corsair 600T
GRAPHENE

Absolute joy to build into; good looks, differentiated from Corsair's full-towers; good value.

GRAPH

No side fan; some kinda-high GPU temperatures.

And the Winner is…

A slate of worthy contenders makes it tough to choose a victor

The five competitors in this roundup are some of the newest, hottest, most talked-about cases from vendors new and old, and there isn’t a case in the bunch that we wouldn’t recommend to somebody. As always, it just depends on what your priorities are. If you want a light, well-constructed case and don’t care about cost or running a Radeon 5970, go for the Lian Li. If you like a more novel, modular look and want a lot of airflow, we recommend the Antec LanBoy Air. The BitFenix Survivor is great for carting around to LANs, and the Corsair 600T is great to build into.

If we have to pick a winner—and we do—we’re going with the NZXT Phantom, with the Corsair running a close second. Both have great looks, superb build quality, and attention to detail on the inside. Neither are perfect—the lack of front-panel USB 3.0 and a front fan hurts the Phantom, while the Corsair could use a side-panel fan to keep GPU temperatures down. But you won’t go wrong with either of them—or any case in this roundup.

Benchmarks

Lian Li PC-8FI
Antec LanBoy Air
BitFenix Survivor NZXT Phantom Corsair 600T
CPU Temp @ 100% burn (C) 47.5
46.5
52.5 49 47.75
CPU Temp @ idle (C) 33.25
30
35.25 31.75 32
GPU Temp (C) 60
54
59 54 62
System Temp (C) 32 32
36 33 35

For our case testing, we use an EV GA 680SLI motherboard, stock-clocked Q6700 with a Thermaltake Contac29 cooler, an Nvidia 8800 GTX (with a Radeon 5970 for size testing), and a Corsair AX850 power supply. We use the case’s stock complement of fans on their highest settings.

Look How Far We've Come

Back in April 2009, we rounded up five full-tower chassis, from budget to lush. At the end, we posted a wish-list of features we thought should be standard in every case: 2.5-inch drive bays (for the growing SSD market), mid-case air ducts, SATA backplanes, intake dust filters, variable-speed fan controllers, cable-routing mechanisms, toolless PCI slots, and quality thumbscrews. So, how did we do?

Every case in this roundup had mounts for at least two 2.5-inch drives, and most included trays that accommodate 2.5- or 3.5-inch drives. We didn’t see mid-case air ducts, but the cases with side intake fans showed lower system and GPU temps than their competitors. SATA backplanes were noticeably absent, but other cases feature them. Every case in the roundup had cable-routing options, and some featured toolless PCI slots and variable fan controllers. Most had decent thumbscrews.

There were some features we didn’t mention then that have now become standard. Every case we tested this month featured a large cutout in the motherboard tray to accommodate CPU coolers with backplates, and all but the Phantom had USB 3.0 front-panel connectors. None had unfinished interiors, and toolless drive bays have also become the norm.

The bottom line: Case design has come a long way in the past 20 months, and it’s only getting better from here.

Around the web

by CPMStar (Sponsored) Free to play

Comments